On an afternoon when even the crime count could not separate them, Hamilton and Hearts shared the spoils from a Premiership fixture low in quality but high on incident.
Both had a man sent off, Robbie Neilson’s side collecting their fifth red card of the season when Brazilian defender Igor Rossi’s dangerous foul on Darren Lyon earned him his marching orders from referee Bobby Madden seven minutes before half-time.
Hearts held firm with ten men before things were evened up in the closing minutes when Hamilton substitute Jesus Garcia Tena received a straight red card for a wild challenge on Arnaud Djoum.
There were also two bookings for each side in an often fractious affair from which both managers could regard a point as an acceptable return in the circumstances.
For Hearts, it extends their current unbeaten run to seven games and consolidates their occupancy of third place in the table and the prospect of European qualification.
From Hamilton manager Martin Canning’s perspective, it was a welcome response to their abject display in losing 8-1 to Celtic five days earlier and edges them a point clear of the relegation play-off place.
Hearts, unsurprisingly unchanged from the side which crushed Motherwell 6-0 the previous weekend, made a curiously tentative start to the contest and duly struggled to get out of second gear for much of the afternoon. They might have been expected to try and exert some early pressure on an Accies defence in which confidence must have been fragile following their midweek mauling at Celtic Park.
But in a dreadful first half, enlivened only by the mayhem which surrounded Rossi’s dismissal, it was Hamilton who crafted the first attempt on target in the 14th minute.
Miguel Pallardo conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position with a clumsy foul on Dougie Imrie just outside the penalty area. Ali Crawford curled the ball around the defensive wall but Neil Alexander held it comfortably to his left.
Hearts finally asked their first question of the home rearguard four minutes later when Alim Ozturk’s free-kick into the area found Rossi at the back post. His close range shot was parried by Michael McGovern who then gathered Callum Paterson’s tame follow-up effort.
Pallardo produced a rare moment of quality amid what was generally wretched fare, the Spanish midfielder splitting the Accies central defence with a delightful through ball which sent Osman Sow clear. But the big striker got his angles all wrong as he wastefully shanked a right foot shot well wide of McGovern’s right-hand post.
It was another clear-cut opening for Hearts which led to the incident which saw Rossi shown the red card. Prince Buaben’s cross from the left picked out the unmarked Billy King on the right of the Hamilton penalty area.
King’s right-foot shot was blocked by McGovern, the loose ball breaking to Buaben who in turn was dispossessed by Lyon on the edge of the penalty area. Rossi’s attempt to win the ball back for Hearts was reckless and two-footed, sparking a furious reaction from the Accies players.
It took some time for referee Madden and his assistants to restore a measure of calm, after which he produced the red card for Rossi, while Ozturk, Darian MacKinnon and Buaben all received yellow cards for their part in the melee following the tackle.
Rossi was reluctant to leave the field, confronting Madden again to protest against the decision before being persuaded to depart by his team-mates.
Neilson immediately replaced striker Gavin Reilly with defender Jordan McGhee as he realigned his now short-handed side. The rancour over the red card continued in the tunnel as the teams left the field, Neilson confronting MacKinnon who had led the calls to Madden to send off Rossi.
Hamilton made their numerical superiority count in terms of increased possession and territorial dominance after the break but struggled to translate that into many clear-cut chances as Hearts dug in defiantly. Alexander did make a stunning save to keep out Devlin’s header following an erroneously awarded corner, but the effort wouldn’t have counted as the flag was raised for offside.
It was Hearts who created the better chances to snatch a winner, twice striking the crossbar in the closing stages. Blazej Augustyn was the first to do so, with a fine header after some delightful work from Ozturk had set him up.
Then, after Tena had evened up the red card count with three minutes remaining with a ludicrous challenge from behind on Arnaud Djoum right under the referee’s nose, Hearts teenage substitute Dario Zanatta passed up a glorious opportunity to notch his first goal for the club as he headed against the bar from close range.
McGovern made a brave save to deny Juanma in stoppage time as Hearts finished in the ascendancy but it was a contest neither side deserved to win.
Hamilton: McGovern; Gordon, Devlin, Tagliapietra (Garcia-Tena 46), Kurakins, Imrie, Lyon (Brophy 75), Crawford, MacKinnon (Docherty 46), Kurtaj, D’Acol. Subs not used: Martin, Morris, Nade, Mandiangu. Sent off: Jesus Garcia Tena, 86,
Hearts: Alexander; Paterson, Augustyn, Ozturk, Rossi; King (Zanatta 46), Pallardo, Djoum, Buaben; Reilly (McGhee 40), Sow (Juanma 70). Subs not used: Hamilton, Oshaniwa, Swanson, Beith. Sent off: Rossi, 40.
Referee: Bobby Madden
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